Happiness by Matthieu Ricard

Happiness by Matthieu Ricard

Author:Matthieu Ricard [RICARD, MATTHIEU]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: SEL007000
ISBN: 9780316054751
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: 2008-12-14T05:00:00+00:00


The craving for pleasant sensations is readily implanted in the mind, since pleasure is accommodating and always ready to offer its services. It is attractive, instills confidence, and with a few convincing images sweeps away all hesitation. What could we possibly have to fear from such a tempting offer? Nothing is easier than setting off down the path of pleasure. But the breeziness of those first few steps doesn’t last long, and soon gives way to the disappointment of naive expectations and the loneliness that goes with the satiation of the senses. It’s hardly realistic to hope that such pleasures will bring us lasting happiness one day.

The great pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer stated: “All striving springs from want or deficiency, from dissatisfaction with one’s condition, and is therefore suffering so long as it is not satisfied. No satisfaction, however, is lasting; on the contrary, it is always merely the starting point of fresh striving. We see striving everywhere impeded in many ways, everywhere struggling and fighting, and hence always as suffering.”1 This assertion is true but incomplete. It assumes that we cannot escape desire and the suffering it perpetuates. If we want to escape it, we have to know how it is created.

The first thing to note is that all passionate desire—as opposed to such primary sensations as hunger or thirst—is foreshadowed by a feeling and a mental representation. The formation of that image can be set in motion by an outward object (a shape, a sound, a touch, a smell, or a taste) or an inward one (a memory or a daydream). Even if we are influenced by latent tendencies, even if desire—primarily sexual—is branded onto our physical constitution, it cannot express itself without a mental representation. It can be voluntary or seem to impose itself on our imagination; it can form slowly or with lightning speed, surreptitiously or openly; but the representation always precedes the active desire because its object must be reflected in our thoughts. It considers desirability to be an inherent characteristic of a given person, whose qualities it exaggerates and whose defects it minimizes. “Desire embellishes the objects on which it rests its wings of fire,” wrote Anatole France.

Understanding this process helps us to accelerate the inner dialogue that allows us to overcome afflictive desire.

Generally, once mental images linked to a desire begin to build up in the mind, one either satisfies the desire or suppresses it. The former action represents a surrender of self-control, the second initiates a conflict. The inner conflict created by suppression is always a source of distress. On the other hand, the option of indulging a desire is like saying: “Why make everything so complicated? Let’s satisfy the desire and have done with it.” The problem is, you’re never done with it: satiation is merely a respite. The mental imagery that desire is continuously creating very quickly reemerges. The more frequently we assuage our desires, the more these images multiply, intrude, and constrain us. The more salt water we drink, the thirstier we become.


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